Global Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:42 pm on 30th January 2020.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee 1:42 pm, 30th January 2020

I agree with the hon. Gentleman—who is now my hon. Friend, as we will hopefully work more closely on national defence issues for the United Kingdom. He makes an important point about these being issues that we need to tackle. When it comes to defence, there is an immediate knee-jerk reaction to speak about platforms—have we got enough of them and so forth? That is important, and we do no doubt face some challenges, but it is also about capabilities.

I go back to the fact that the character of war is changing. We are in constant conflict and competition. Why bother invading or, indeed, attacking a country when it is possible to digitally impose problems for any town, city or community from afar, through a laptop? Elections are being interfered with, and there is not even an international organisation that countries can go to and say, “My election has been interfered with by another state. Please can you take action?”

The second issue is to do with the rise of China. It has a President who has got the job for life, and in our lifetime China will become more dominant economically, technologically and militarily than the United States. It is setting its own rules on how it does business, which poses some huge challenges for us. We need to have an adult conversation with China to better understand it and ask, “What are the rules that we should be following?” We talk about the erosion of the rules-based order, but who is willing to step forward and say, “I’m going to challenge that—I’m going to defend the rules-based order or upgrade those rules, because they are out of date”? Let us not forget that many of them were created in the Bretton Woods conversations after the second world war. China was excluded, and it reminds us of that all the time. It needs to be included in a conversation with international organisations, whether it be the UN or the OECD, so that the rules and standards that we follow are observed, because they have not been.

China is doing its own thing, and we see that in the big debate we have just had over Huawei. Whether it is Huawei, Tencent or China Telecom, all those companies are obliged to provide sensitive information to the state. We do not know the relationship between Huawei and the Chinese army. We have no idea what the intelligence services do with that information. That is why concern has been expressed vividly in this House about the relationship that we have chosen for our 5G roll-out.

We were not in the room when that decision was made in the National Security Council. Experts are there to give the Prime Minister advice. My message to the Government is: we have taken that decision, but can we put a time limit on our use of Huawei or, indeed, any Chinese companies? Can we develop our own western capability, so that we can wean ourselves off the use of Chinese operations? We cannot predict the security that we will require in the future, or even today.